COVID-19 caught us all off guard. If we look back exactly one year ago, the world was completely different: everything from the workplace to personal relationships, and even just taking public transit. To a greater or lesser extent, this has affected our physical health as well as our mental and emotional health.
We can say that the pandemic has accentuated a pre-existing problem. Data on mental health before the pandemic is proof of this. According to the INE (the national statistics institute):
- 30% of sick leave was due to stress.
- Workers who were stressed saw their performance reduced by 60%.
- 59% of employees experienced some sort of stress at work.
- The average leave for psychological reasons was more than 90 days.
The current rates of anxiety and depression disorders have increased exponentially due to COVID-19. The pandemic has bought an onslaught of new, stressful circumstances on top of everything that stressed us out before. Going through these new stressors – situations that can cause psychological upset due to fatigue – has increased the risk of developing a psychological illness. The frequency, duration, and intensity of these stressors can increase the possibility of a psychological disorder developing.
A new situation: fear, adaptation, and overcoming
Although humankind’s capacity for adaptation and cognitive flexibility is exceptional and admirable, we cannot deny that fear, uncertainty, and many other stressors make our daily lives much more complex, increasing our fragility.
The WHO even discusses pandemic fatigue. One in three people worldwide suffers from anxiety or stress. This mechanism is activated when someone lacks the resources to face their current situation. Physical and emotional stress causes fatigue, further tiredness, exhaustion, and negative, unpleasant emotions. Here, it is important to note that psychological overload depends more on our perception of threats than on the threats themselves. Hence, the importance of providing people with the resources to cope with them.
Let’s look at the main stressors that have the greatest impact:
- Death of a relative
- Fear of infection or infecting a family member
- Fear of getting infected oneself
- Relatives getting infected or suspicion of infection living together at home
- Infected relatives admitted to the hospital
- Forced confinement
- Work and financial problems
- Fear of the future, the economy, health, and work
- Remote working in unsuitable environments
The impact of COVID-19 on workers
What impact has COVID-19 had on workers? The level of impact depends on various factors, such as the level of exposure to different stressors, as well as their duration and intensity. The ability to cope with these stressors has also been influential: each person responds or solves problems in different ways depending on their personality, cognitive flexibility, internal locus of control, and so on.
The most commonly seen psychological disorders due to COVID-19 are:
- Adaptive disorders: These are psychological reactions arising from difficulty in adapting to the changes that COVID-19 has brought to our lives. They occur in the face of the most chronic stressors that last over a longer period, such as poor adaptation to remote work
- Acute stress or post-traumatic stress disorders: These arise when we are exposed to a very acute stressor that is of such great intensity that, though it occurs only once, it can still cause this disorder. This would be the case for healthcare workers.
- Mood disorders: These cause decreased attention, concentration, or appetite; sadness, apathy, or anhedonia, which consists of a lack of reaction to stimuli that are usually pleasant; the marked decrease or total disappearance of the ability to enjoy previously enjoyable things (friends, hobbies…)
There are specific psychological screening questionnaires for the workplace that tell us if an employee is sensitive and may be at risk of suffering from a diagnosed psychological disorder. We can also determine whether an employee is exhibiting psychological disturbances by observing their behaviors. Some examples of these behaviors would include:
- Increased irritability
- Sudden social isolation and a loss of interest in others
- Decreased interest in daily activities, responsibilities, and hobbies; increased apathy
- Changes in sleep habits
- Changes in eating habits
- Problems with concentration and attention
- Difficulty remembering short-term events
- Increased sensory sensitivity (intolerance to noise or light)
- Onset of nervous states
New stressors, new solutions
How can we move forward in these sorts of situations? First of all, we can turn to the company’s psychological support service. If not available, there are medical services and, if necessary, health services. Of course, prevention is key. The company must provide employees with the tools and resources needed to take care of their emotional well-being (training, workshops, informational modules, etc.) and instruct them in simple coping techniques.
Of course, keeping up healthy personal habits is also essential to protecting our well-being. Along with psychological techniques that help us live better and increase our self-awareness and emotional skills, staying in good physical shape, exercising, and drawing on the proactive effects of these activities impacts our emotional and physical health. Avoiding over-information and seeking support from friends and family are also great ways to keep both body and mind happy and healthy.